Paul South entered yesterday's John F. Kennedy 50-Miler with just several months of hard training under his belt following two years when he did little serious running.
But South proved he still has the knack to excel at one of the world's most grueling sports in winning the ultramarathon from Boonsboro to Williamsport, Md., in 6 hours 11 minutes 49 seconds.
Connie Gardner, a 41-year-old from Medina, Ohio, won the women's race for the second time in three years with a time of 7:31 flat.
South, a 31-year-old from Boulder, Colo., held off a vigorous charge from one of the legends of ultramarathons, Ian Torrence of Boulder City, Nev., who finished just a minute and a second behind.
But the less-experienced South -- who said the end of a recent long-term relationship encouraged him to get back into competitive running -- proved to be the strongest runner of the race.
"I would feel guilty if I waste what I have, while I can still run like this," said South, who won a 50K race this summer. "I have some friends from Colorado who told me about this race, and it was a goal of mine to come here and run."
At the midway point yesterday, though, South thought seriously about dropping out. He battled nausea for about an hour and even had to walk portions of the race.
"If things continued the way they did I would have had to stop, but things turned around," South said. "I think I threw up everything in my body. I kept trying to figure out what I ate that was orange."
Torrence pulled even with South around that time, but South said he eventually pulled away once he rehydrated and ate a little.
For Torrence, who is originally from Gaithersburg, it was his 11th unsuccessful attempt to win the biggest ultramarathon title that has eluded him. He has won many of the major American races at distances longer than a marathon -- he even completed the Grand Slam of ultramarathons, winning four prestigious 100-milers in one year in 2002.
"I started crying about 200 meters from the finish line," Torrence said. "I was hyperventilating and I told myself, 'You have to stop crying and finish this race.' "
After finishing as runner-up in last year's race, Gardner came back to win this year, beating Laura Nelson of Woodstock, Va., by three minutes even.
Gardner runs an ambitious schedule even by ultramarathoning standards. Just three weeks ago she won the Chicago Lakefront 50-Miler in just over 7:20. In September she successfully defended her national 100-mile road title (15:48:04). And despite now running with a masters (over 40) designation in events, she is still dominating women's ultramarathoning.
"I came back here to set a masters record, and it's a challenging race to run," Gardner said. "You have a technical trail for a half marathon, then a marathon on a path, then a road race. You have to be a really well-rounded runner to do well here."
Slightly fewer than 1,000 people ran in the race, now in its 42nd year, which is run over portions of the Appalachian Trail, the C&O Canal towpath and paved country roads.